cover image Mr. Spaceman

Mr. Spaceman

Robert Olen Butler / Author Grove/Atlantic $23 (288p) ISBN 978

An alien with a heart of gold beams up 12 people on a casino-bound bus on the eve of the millennium in a last-ditch effort to understand humanity before making his long-planned descent to earth in Butler's boundlessly imaginative tale of self-discovery. Desi, who first appeared in the short story ""Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover"" (Tabloid Dreams, 1997), has been hovering over the U.S. (and watching our TV programs) for some 30 years, collecting the words, memories and yearnings of a few chosen people in a great machine on board his spaceship. Although he is the only remaining representative of his species, he is not alone; keeping him company are his curvaceous human wife, Edna Bradshaw, and their cat, Eddie. With the Wonders of Modern Technology at his disposal (Butler uses capricious capitalization throughout the narrative, to convey Mr. Spaceman's voice and delivery), Desi ""interviews"" some of the 12 gamblers, bringing forth their voices via the ""memory machine"" in a series of dramatic monologues that showcase Butler's talent for capturing vernacular and also his gift for parable. Each voice bears witness to a culture-defining event of the 20th century, from the first airplane flight in 1903 to the Branch Davidian debacle at Waco. But before he must make himself known to the world (and in so doing, reveal the ""great and fundamental truth of the cosmos""), Edna prepares an unforgettable Alabama-style Last Supper for her spaceman lover and his 12 guests. Through Desi's alien eyes, Pulitzer Prize-winning Butler makes poignant observations about the power (and inadequacies) of language, the logic of dreams and the universal hope for redemption. He balances the playfulness of alien lore with the weight of religion, marrying the comic and the tragic with mastery. In Butler's view, our stories all have certain inevitable endings. This novel raises fin de siecle literature to new heights and turns inevitability on its head. (Jan.)